Competing at national championships is a rare opportunity every athlete with big dreams strives for and commits countless hours to achieving.
Cyclist Eddie Worrall, 17, put in hours of hard work on his bike around Warrnambool to secure his chance at the 2020 Australian Junior Track Championships last March.
Basketballer Wil Rantall, 14, played numerous games and trained diligently to secure his place in Vic Country's team for the Basketball Australia under 16 championships in Perth in July this year.
Netballer Millie Jennings, 15, has committed to hours of driving from her home in Portland to train and play with the Western Region Netball Academy in the hopes of scoring a spot in a state team.
But due to the coronavirus pandemic and its lasting impact on sport across the state and country these opportunities were taken away.
Worrall's sprint for national glory came to an abrupt end when the championships he was to race in were cancelled in the early months of the pandemic.
Rantall's chance to wear the Big V on the national stage has also been taken away, firstly with the postponement of the championships in Perth and then when the Victorian team pulled out of the rescheduled event in Darwin due to interstate travel restrictions.
Jennings' two years in the region's academy has mostly been on Zoom with brief chances to put what she has learnt into practice on court with new teammates.
It's left the trio feeling disappointed at the multitude of missed opportunities.
"The (Basketball Victoria State Development) Program has been amazing and I have still learnt so much but I could've learnt more seeing them (coaches and teammates) more often," Rantall said.
"I learnt as much as I possibly could in the situation I'm in."
South West Academy of Sport CEO Andrew Sloane said the biggest impact the pandemic has had on SWAS' athletes had been the frustration of missing out.
"You certainly see that at community sport level through the postponement and cancellation of finals, which is the peak periods they work towards, and SWAS is no different," he said.
"Our athletes have been working towards (state teams and national championships) selections and an element of frustration would be prevalent.
"But part of what we saw was it delivers real life examples of where the end goal still remains the same but our plans have to adapt to different setbacks that life throws at us."
Sloane said the academy's primary concern was the mental health of its athletes but added they had shown resilience during the pandemic.
"It is a good testament to our athletes who are stepping up and continuing to train in whatever way they can," he said.
"I think one of the disappointing things from athlete's point of view is the lack of opportunity to compete at higher levels when they have been working for hours in gym, on the track or in the field to compete at the highest level.
"Some of them are missing out either last year or this year but by focusing on long-term goals and, with the support the academy provides, we are hopeful they stay on target for their future goals."
Victorian Institute of Sport performance director Dave Crosbee said the impact the pandemic has had on the development of young athletes wouldn't be known for some time.
He said the two years of development opportunities young athletes had missed would be difficult to get back.
"Time is one of these things you can't replace and simple answer is OK, let's do more to make up for lost time but you have to factor in, especially with those development athletes, that kids are going to be at school or university," he said.
"It is not as simple in a practical sense to throw more competitions and camps in as there is only so many days and weeks in a year.
"You have to be careful about managing their load and if you overload, add more competitions and camps they won't be able to train, and run the risk of getting injured or a bit of burn out.
"You can't make up for lost time - you have to be conscious.
"There has been a gap and it's a different experience this generation will have from previous ones and you've got to take that into account with what you're trying to do with them as a coach to help them move forward."
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Crosbee said the last two years still had some silver linings.
"What it has allowed people to do is to have some more solid blocks of training, focus on some real fundamental skills and areas to develop which they wouldn't have done if they were doing their normal training and competition," he said.
Rantall, a Warrnambool College Sporting Pathway Program student, said his silver lining was improving his footwork and shooting form.
SWAS Royal Bikes Junior Squad member Worrall said the support from his coach Kez King and returning a better athlete was his.
"When the times are tough and I struggle for motivation to train she is always keeping me positive and telling me to look on the bright side of things," he said.
"She reminds me that I'm getting stronger and when racing comes back I'll be ready while others may have slacked off."
Jennings, a Monivae College student, has worked on her ball skills while also putting a focus on her fitness and building strength.
The Koroit 17 and under and open grade player said while she had improved it was hard to ignore all the missed opportunities.
"There would be a bit missing as you are not always in front of the different types of coaches on offer and for them to help push you further as you're not in front of their eyes," she said.
"It has still definitely improved my netball and helped me go places. There definitely will be a state team at the end of it and I'm trying to get to that but I don't know until we have those try outs.
"They're still up in the air and could be at the end of this year or the start of the next."
She said the social side of the academy was also an important factor she had missed out on.
"I definitely started to make a few friends. All the girls are nice but it has been hard to stay connected because COVID keeps coming up," she said.
"It has been good to make connections but it has been hard not being able to play and see how they play.
"Missed out on playing the others and coming up against someone you haven't played before and you don't know how they play."
Worrall, a Year 11 Emmanuel College student, said racing at higher levels was his chance to show his talent.
"Racing is where all the opportunities are, it's where you get noticed and obviously it's hard to get that at the moment," he said.
"There has also been a lot of people stop as well as because racing kept them going but for me racing is awesome but I also love the training and seeing progress being made.
"If races don't go ahead I set another goal, keep training and hopefully things open again and I can get back out racing."
A silver lining to no racing for Worrall is it has given him time to put the brakes on and look at improving himself on and off the bike.
"Whether that be increased endurance for longer racing, improving my sprint, increasing my flexibility off and on the bike or strengthening my character and becoming a better person," he said.
"It's also about dealing with the hard times, getting through it and becoming stronger out the other side."
Worrall said invaluable opportunities like gathering with his teammates and training camps had been sorely missed.
"Training camps with the team would be organised for the weekend and then lockdown comes in and shuts that down," he said.
"That has hurt our development and they normally involve us working on race nutrition, tactics and mindfulness. The coaches have tried to keep us motivated and keep us positive.
"It's hard with all restrictions to help us all get together for training camps like the one we did earlier in year when we went up to Mansfield for a VRS (Victorian Road Series) tour.
"It was our first race together as a team. It was an amazing weekend up there with the team but recently it has been hard to get together because we're in and out of lockdown.
"It's hard to meet up for training rides or catching up to have a chat. We've still been keeping in contact as we're all locally based. Kez is also super supportive and keeps us motivated as well."
Worrall said he had loved getting into the gym at Momentum Fitness and getting stronger but was not allowed to do that too due to restrictions.
Despite the multiple lockdowns, constant uncertainty, championship cancellations, numerous Zoom calls, countless individual training sessions the trio's motivation has not waned.
They can see a light at the end of their respective tunnels and are chasing new goals.
Worrall is as committed to his cycling and has hopes of returning to the AusCycling National Road Championships in search of a podium in the junior race.
Rantall's love for basketball had grown stronger and he is dedicated to continuing his quest to wear the Big V on the national stage.
Jennings is the most motivated she has ever been and has her sights set on more improvement and what that brings her.
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